The things I do for my friends …

D is a cut-back kitchen designer, by which I mean he designs kitchens for a living but his firm has cut him back to a three-day week. So he has time on his hands but not a lot of money. He’s also an avid quiz-goer. All these factors mean that when he heard about Pointless, a quiz show that requires pairs to enter, he was up for it and he persuaded me I would enjoy it too.

That was back in the summer, and after sending in the applications we heard no more about it. I assumed that was the end of it. Apparently they had the first series – 4.30pm, BBC2, weekday afternoons, Alexander Armstrong hosting – and it was good enough for a second to be commissioned. So, they trawled the files and got in touch with the also-rans from the first time round. I got a call on my mobile and, having completely forgotten about it, almost told them to take a hike, assuming it was some kind of cold sales call. Oops.

Anyway, long story short, we went for our audition in Shepherds Bush on Friday. Three other pairs were there too so we had: two bubbly sisters in their 20s; two elder Essex lads, veterans of other quiz shows with plenty of entertaining anecdotes and not a nice word to say about Anne Robinson or Martyn Lewis; a mother and son, who was the spitting image of a young Mike Oldfield; and a kitchen designer and technical editor from Abingdon.

No studios or Alexander Armstrong for the audition, of course; this was all in a boardroom at Endemol HQ. For an ice breaker we did Mexican waves around the table and whoever had their hands in the air when we were told to stop had to say a fact about themselves. Mine was that I’ve been to Buckingham Palace twice. D was kicking himself after: “I forgot to say my grandfather was a bigamist!” (I did ask which wife he was descended from. Apparently his grandfather cunningly married two women with the same name, which is why it took so long for his descendants to work it out.)

Then a couple of rounds of the game itself. It’s Family Fortunes in reverse. The organisers previously asked a panel of 100 volunteers to name as many items in a given category as they can. You then get asked to name one item, and you get the same number of points as the number of volunteers who also said that. BUT you want to get as few points as possible. I can use this example because this is the one they use publicly: if you’re asked to name a Tom Cruise film and say “Top Gun”, 60 or 70 of the panel also said that and so you get 60 or 70 points. If you say “Tropic Thunder”, which none of the panel guessed, you get zero points. The winner is the one with as few points as possible.

If, though, you said something like “Gone with the Wind” which is just a plain wrong answer, you get 100 points. Simple.

I won’t say the questions they asked. I’ll just say we came second, and could have come first if we’d had the courage of our convictions and gone for an answer that we only thought might be the right one. Pah. But it was a lot more fun than I thought it would be; there was a really nice atmosphere between the eight of us, and I think we all genuinely hope the others make it even if we don’t. D has been forewarned that, unlike the winners in the clip I saw, if we win I will not throw myself into his arms and he will not do likewise with me. We may go so far as a discreet Anglican handshake, maybe a “jolly good show” or two. No more.

Filming will happen during January: if we’re to be on it, we’ll hear in the next few weeks. I’ll let you know.

Bonanza with bubbles

– is my manager’s unkind assessment of the titles to Barrier Reef.
Reader, I cannot speak highly enough of this show. It captured my imagination in the early 70s and still has it to this day. It was an Australian series about a marine science unit based on an old sailing ship that had been significantly upgraded into a high-tech floating laboratory. It must have been pretty high-budget for a kids’ show. The extensive underwater scenes really were shot underwater, and the two jet boats that come thundering towards the viewer in the opening bars of the title sequence really are thundering towards the viewer. Most of it was shot on location – the scenes on board ship, even below decks, were shot on board ship. The title music is just as stirring as the Thunderbirds march and I’ve been able to hum it ever since.
I enjoy, or at least am interested in, old ships, computers, scuba diving, science and the sea. I can probably trace all those back to this show.
Barrier Reef was produced by the same company that made Skippy. It seems grossly unfair that that stupid wallaby gets the lasting fame and Barrier Reef has faded beyond even the reach of DVD re-releases. How hard would it be? I’ll do without the usual cast interviews, value added features and easter eggs. Just stick the eps on disk and I’ll watch them end to end. And pay for it. Who could ask more?
Two things I learn as an adult watching the closing titles that evaded me as a child. Three things. Among the things I learn are: (1) without the music it would be pretty dull. (2) I bet that boat’s under power. (3) There’s a key change I’d forgotten. For the opening titles, Bonusbarn comments that that’s the most useless submarine he’s ever seen.

The fourth horseman

I’m pleased to see the Survivors have picked somewhere with an Aga. That will be handy when the cold sets in (assuming they have a continued supply of gas or oil) but is also a subconscious link to the original series. That one was flawed by the fratefully naice middle classness of it all. Our Survivors for a new generation are mixed in race, colour and class … but they still end up in a house with an Aga.


I vaguely remember the original 70s series, though I didn’t see much as it was on after my bedtime. Possibly the main attraction for 10-year-old me was that it was devised by Terry Nation and he invented the Daleks. I finally got to see the first series on video about ten years ago and found it pretty superior fare. The first episode remained the best, starting as the remake did with the virus already in full sway but few realising the danger they were in. The remake pinched the scene of Abby staggering through her home town, finding nothing but dead bodies and pleading, “please God, don’t let me be the only one!”

Then, as now, groups of survivors band together; some get it, some don’t. Anyone clinging to the old ways, or claiming authority based on who they were before the plague, doesn’t get it. Abby does, mostly thanks to a lecture from a surviving teacher at her son’s prep school (who here has transformed into an instructor at an outward-bound adventure school; a nice way of keeping a theme of the original plot, Abby searching for her son, in a way a modern audience can relate to). She says she can find an axe in a hardware store. Yes, but what happens when the last axe head breaks? Could you repair it? Could you smelt the ore to make a new one? Because that’s how long things are going to take to get better.

Eventually Abby’s group settle down somewhere nice and secluded with large grounds (specifically, this place) for growing crops, keeping animals, accreting more survivors, and dealing with ethical issues like how do you deal with a sex offender in a world without courts (especially when you realise you’ve got it wrong – bummer).

Our new group has already found somewhere nice and large, though not very secluded – it seems to be a mansion in the suburbs of Manchester, which can’t be very pleasant on a hot sunny day when the heat gets to the bodies. Some flaws of the original series seem to have been dealt with, others not. The original class homogeneity has been diversified into a precisely calculated group of mixed men and women. They seem to be dressed a bit more practically, but who knows – maybe their outfits will be as laughable in 30 years time as the costumes sported with pride by our original heroes. The one exception to the original niceness was the almost offensively stereotyped cowardly rat-faced Welshman who was of course the villain,Tom Price; Tom now seems to have a lot more going for him. On the down side, our survivors still manage to keep amazingly clean and there are very few hints indeed that they are surrounded by millions of decaying corpses. I was hoping for something grittier.

Almost 100% of the first episode matched its original series equivalent. Last night borrowed about 50% (see? and this one …) To judge by the trailers, next week will use about 25%. Zeno’s Paradox suggests that the series will never be entirely original but the last few minutes of the last episode will come pretty close.

The definitive post-virus text is of course George Stewart’s Earth Abides which doesn’t pull any punches as to the likely consequences of a worldwide plague. Think rats, think insects, populations exploding overnight and then collapsing Malthus-style as their, ahem, food supply gets used up. Significantly, the book doesn’t have a happy ending in terms of civilisation restarting, but at least we no longer worry for the future of the human race. By the end of it the children of the survivors have grown up, unfettered by memories of what once was, and they can start a new hunter-gatherer society with the instinctive ease of kids picking up any new talent.

Knowledge of the original Survivors affected me more than I might have realised. Ever since, I’ve thought – just every now and then, you understand – in terms of what would happen if a worldwide plague came. Frankly, I’d be quite happy with option A which would be dying and making the surviving someone else’s problem. But if by some perversity I survived …

Well, it would be very convenient if the plague could strike while we’re on holiday at my father in law’s farm in Sweden. Failing that, there is at a specific location in our fair land a house that I know of that was originally designed to be kept warm without central heating, and which contains a gun locker with a hunting rifle and (I think) a shot gun, and I know where the keys are kept. I think I would go there. Bonusbarn points out that if I just want weaponry, RAF Benson is a lot closer and Dalton Barracks practically on the doorstep; well, yes, true, but other plus points may not apply. Salisbury Plain is on the doorstep of the house I’m thinking of. Neolithic man thrived there once; we can do it again. My bible would probably be Bear Grylls: Born Survivor. And the house I’m thinking of has an Aga.